Why are airlines blocking customers on social media?

social media block

What can you do when your airline stops talking to you? That’s not a hypothetical question for Kate Sawma, who was recently blocked on social media by Frontier Airlines during a customer service dispute.

Blocking accounts on Facebook or Twitter is common among social media users. But airlines do it, too. Based on interviews with airlines, other travel companies and travelers, as well as my experience mediating travel disputes, blocking customers appears to be on the rise. Understanding why airlines do it can help you avoid getting on a blacklist and ensure that your next complaint is heard.

“Customer tirades on social media can become so abusive they reach a point at which you need to block,” says customer service expert Chip Bell, author of “Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles.” “Blocking is not unlike asking an abusive, irrational customer to leave your store. It happens when you determine the emotional cost of serving the customer exceeds the return you are getting or are likely to get in the future.”

Blocking stops you from being able to send a message to a company on social media. Often, but not always, it’s accompanied by the deletion of one of your offending posts. The block is sometimes temporary but usually indefinite.

Why Frontier blocked her

Frontier says it blocked Sawma, an accountant from Philadelphia, for a good reason. It had canceled her flight from Chicago to Trenton, N.J. Then it promised to refund the cost of the replacement ticket she booked on another airline and give her a flight voucher within 10 days. But a few weeks later, a representative revised that timeline to four to six weeks. A Frontier representative said Sawma repeatedly contacted the airline via social media, asking for her refund and voucher.

“The activity was interpreted as a spam effort, and an account under the name of Kate Sawma was blocked,” says Frontier spokesman Jonathan Freed. “But we were communicating with our passenger.”

Sawma says her experience with Frontier was frustrating. First, the airline canceled her flight because of a mechanical problem, forcing her to book a last-minute ticket home. Then she says it stonewalled her. “I called the customer service line, and no one answered,” she told me. “I emailed Frontier. No reply.”

Freed says Frontier’s records show that it communicated with Sawma often after her flight cancellation, although he did not say how. The airline says she rebooked her flight incorrectly, using Expedia instead of Tripeasy, a site that coordinates with Frontier for rebooking and reimbursement, to make her reservation. That affected the timing of her refund.

“We appreciate that issues resulting from delays are frustrating and try to address them as quickly as possible,” Freed told me.

Frontier says it eventually unblocked her, and Sawma says she received the full refund.

What’s behind the airline blocks?

Airlines block users for all kinds of reasons. Alaska Airlines, one of the most forward-looking ones on social media, even posts its blocking policy.

“We like conversations on our page, but comments that contain profanity, hate speech, spam or are otherwise offensive will be removed,” it warns. “Out of respect for our employees’ privacy, we reserve the right to hide or remove any post or comment that is disparaging or has negative intent toward our employees.”

Michael Roy, Alaska Airlines’ social care program lead, says blocking a user is rare. “The only time we will ban someone is if they repeatedly continue to violate our social media policy,” he says.

There is no way to know how common customer blocking is in the airline industry. I checked with Facebook and Twitter, and neither would reveal how many users are blocked by airline sites.

Social media blocks: a necessary evil?

Blocks are a necessary evil in the online world. Full disclosure: At Elliott Advocacy, my nonprofit consumer advocacy site, we block some users, too. I don’t have a formal written policy; it’s something my team and I talk about on a case-by-case basis. Bannable offenses include writing offensive or racist comments and intentionally misrepresenting a case. We also have a small list of bloggers on our “banned” list who simply hate everything we write.

Admittedly, the number of travelers who complain about their comments being deleted or blocked from airline sites, or any travel site, is relatively small. But it’s still an important issue.

Why does it matter when an airline blocks you? Part of the issue is the perception among users that an airline’s Facebook or Twitter presence is a quasi-public forum where customers have the right to free speech. Disabling the ability to post on Facebook or Twitter or removing comments can make a user feel powerless.

“Blocking is on the rise because companies are realizing the consequences for irrational, irate customers can be greater than the risk of customer cries of censorship,” says Bell, the customer service expert.

But there’s a downside for companies, too. Blocking a customer can rob a company of the opportunity to learn from candid comments. Over time, that could affect an airline’s ability to help passengers.

How to avoid blocking

How do you avoid blocking? By being polite. Avoid using profanity or typing in ALL CAPS, which is considered yelling. Most of the blocks I’ve seen are the result of passengers losing their cool and bombarding the company’s Facebook page with angry messages. While their anger is often justified, it doesn’t help them meet the goal of a positive resolution.

The other way to avoid a block is by being patient. A passenger like Sawma has every right to be upset that 10 days turned into more than a month for a refund, but Frontier grew tired of Sawma’s repeated queries and finally cut her off. A little research on her part would have shown that four to six weeks is fairly standard for refunds and would have suggested that the ticket agent in Chicago had given her incorrect information.

Blocks usually happen without warning, and there’s no way to appeal via social media because the airline won’t receive your messages. But there are other ways of communicating with companies. I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of the executives in charge of airline customer service on my consumer advocacy site. I haven’t heard of an airline blocking customer phone calls yet, nor have any passengers reported that a company bounced emails back to them. And even if they did, there’s still the U.S. Postal Service.

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook
Posted in The Navigator Tagged ,

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

Underwritten by

Underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Underwritten by Enterprise

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

Underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

Underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

Underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.